by K.M. Zahrt
As a writing instructor, I’ve encountered many interesting “rules” for grammar and writing. Surprisingly, as a professional writer, I’ve encountered even more.
Here are two grammar “rules” that I just learned recently:
- Never use the same word twice in one paragraph.
- Using more than one comma in a sentence is a run-on.
These ridiculous “rules” seem ridiculous, ridiculous, and very ridiculous. Right? I certainly hope you think so.
Here are two more common “rules” that you may have encountered in school growing up:
3. Avoid using the word “I” if at all possible.
4. Don’t use contractions. Contractions are for speech, not writing.
First of all, in the four sentences I’ve written above, I’ve broken all of these “rules,” some more than once. Damn, I just did it again.
I’m guessing you’ve probably heard one or more of these, and if you haven’t, you’re probably having a good laugh about them. You may have been told one of these rules from someone you respect and admire, like a parent or a favorite teacher. That’s the toughest part, when you realize some of your childhood heroes were dead wrong about certain things.
The above “rules” represent a pre-computer, pre-Internet, pre-digital age style of teaching and learning. Here are new rules of grammar for the digital age:
1. “It depends.” Acceptable language and grammar are always going to be contextual. I’m sorry. There are not going to be any quick and easy answers. Sometimes you’re going to have to make some difficult judgement calls (and yes, I’m still talking about grammar).
2. “Google it.” I’m being serious. I always find it funny that–among students, friends, family members, even colleagues–if I say something like, “Did you see that crazy thing (pick a celebrity) did?” More than likely, when that person is in front of their smartphone or their computer next, they’re going to “Google” it and find out. For some reason, people are Google-search averse when it comes to grammar. What is that about? Don’t be that person in your workplace. This has lead me to a bonus, third “rule”:
3. “Utilize your resources.” In the post-computer, post-Internet, post-digital age, there are innumerable resources available at your fingertips–literally.Here are some tips to get you started:
- How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One by Stanley Fish. You can download the e-book or you can check it out from your local library. Bonus Tip: When I interviewed for a writing job some time ago, the interviewer asked me, “What are you reading right now?” My answer was this book. The interviewer laughed, but then she offered me the job. Even if you don’t read the book, if you find yourself fielding a similar question in a similar interview situation, I suggest dropping this title. It works. You’re welcome. You can always go read the book afterwards anyhow.
- Grammar Girl. I often use Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl for a quick and easy Internet reference guide. Just Google your grammar question, then select the Grammar Girl link that appears. She almost always has a good answer ready for you. Disclaimer: Remember new rule #1 above. The right answer often depends (on you).